What do you do with your uncomfortable feelings? Do you stuff them (“I’m not upset anymore!”), deny them (“I’m fine”), avoid them (“I don’t feel anything”), or discount them (“I don’t care”)? Ahh, and you think they’re gone!? What really happens to our feelings when we do this? They don’t just magically go “poof.” They get stored in two places: our bodies, and/or our minds. This is why some people cry during a massage, or yoga; because there, they are back IN their bodies again and the emotions come OUT. It’s why we get “triggered” when someone bugs us – the old feeling stored in our brains gets shaken up, or agitated. When we try to protect ourselves from uncomfortable emotions, we inevitably aggravate the problem via storing the feeling within, only for it to come out later. In addition, repeatedly storing unresolved, painful thoughts, memories or feelings creates neuropathways; thus, we will think , feel or act those ways again and again. Break out of your old patterns and try four things that actually work:
1) Become vulnerable. Instead of self-protecting, allow vulnerability. Start with the choice: even though you dislike vulnerability, choose to experience it. Then allow yourself the discomfort. You’ve actually handled it in many situations: social ones, at school, at work. You’re better at dealing with unease than you know, allowing your face to show agitation yet without saying something aggressive. Or perhaps you fidget while being asked questions you don’t like hearing, but you answer them then walk away, relieved. You actually did it! You dealt with discomfort. So even though you prefer not to experience it, you do not HAVE to avoid it, because you’re able to manage. Notice discomfort, feel it, and get vulnerable. You’ll be stronger. Manage it and respond without letting defense mechanisms take over.
2) Stay. Stay with the feeling, whatever it is, without letting it take over your entire being. Most challenges become problems because they increase in potency as we ignore them. We actually make them more chaotic than they are by viewing them from a vantage point of fear. We also forget who we really are. You are the Observer, the Self within, not your feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. Those are simply expressions of your experience. Many difficulties can be prevented and managed if you learn to notice when any sort disruption begins in your heart, head, or how you act. By observing, without judgment, you don’t over-identify with the feeling, as if this feeling IS you. You stay, noticing whatever IS. Mindful and vulnerable awareness of feelings and thoughts simply allows them, without implying that they are the totality of who you are. Oddly enough, when you “stay” with a feeling, it usually moves through you in a few minutes. Try it. When you don’t judge your experience, or attach a “story” to it, you’ll become more clear, moving forward with fluidity.
3) Live in the grey area. Stop thinking black and white. Do you want to respond, rather than react? Think & feel grey instead. It will mean learning to live in the grey zone, where several seemingly opposing things all exist at the same time. Like the yin & yang, opposites and multiplicities coexist. How does a person live that way? We allow ourselves to feel many things at once, just as we can think several things at the same time. We start thinking, feeling and acting on a continuum, instead of in polar opposites.
For example, here’s a way to view and pinpoint multiple feelings on a continuum, from 1 to 10:
0=joy or contentment. The opposing 10 is equated to the very strongest of unmanageable emotions, such as: fury, severe depression, a full blown panic attack, or a screaming fight with your partner. Walk backwards from 10 to 9: at 9, you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed. 8 might be: you are completely challenged, beyond what you’re usually able to manage. 7 is: difficult; 6: having a hard time. 5: neutral, you are not happy or sad; content. 4 might be: feeling good, hopeful. 3: enthused, at peace. 2: might mean a state of no emotional disruption or thought disturbance; calm. 1, then: happiness, and excitement! 0=Joy! Your mind is both at rest and filled with elation.
The point is to notice what you are feeling, and see your ability to move one way or another along the continuum, instead of staying stuck. You may be experiencing three different emotions, all at once. Allow them, make a small change, and you will impact your feelings, moving a notch or two towards peace. You can use a continuum similarly for observing your thoughts, and choosing your actions. If you want greater understanding and success here, work with a competent therapist.
4) Commit. Vow to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Are you tired of anxiety, your own anger, and mood swings when these things occur? Choose daily to take on discomfort. Move out of immobilization into the flow of life, ready for anything! Prevention means operating from a place of awareness, not reacting after the fact. Work with disruption as it rears it’s uninvited head in both the little and the big areas. Recommit to manage things differently before they arise, and notice your successes daily, reinforcing your vow to change. In your mind and heart, there’s plenty of room for the unpredictable. If you accept discomfort, you’ll glide along your path with greater ease.
~Pamela W. Brinker, LCSW
References: Daniel J. Siegel, MD: Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation; Pema Chodron: Comfortable With Uncertainty; Brene’ Brown, PhD, LMSW: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead